For most tourists across the globe, Agra begins and ends with the famous Taj Mahal, among the wonders of the world. But there is a long story behind the birth of Taj Mahal, lying in the tomb of I’timad-Ud-Daulah, meaning pillar of the state. This is the story of Mirza Ghiyas Beg who rests in peace with his wife Asmat Begum at this tomb, constructed between 1622–28 by his daughter Nur Jahan. We discovered this story while crossing it by chance, returning after attending a car rally some years back.
It was spring and the birds were chirping. The rays of the sun were dancing over the little Yamuna stream. We know the Yamuna is dying, and we question its survival. We tried to capture the rays and the birds and the stream in our cameras and then drove over the bridge, finding ourselves right in front of this little visited building.
Like all Mughal structures, this had an imposing red sandstone entrance with inlaid marble floral carvings. The tablet at the entrance said that we were going to enter the resting place of Nur Jahan’s parents — Mirza Giyas Beg and his wife Asmat Begum. It also gives a clear picture of the architectural layout. But even then the sheer beauty of the white marble building took our breath away. Some have called it jewel in the box and it does look like one amidst the green gardens, the water pathways and the minarets.
Looking around for help, we asked the man guarding the shoes about the tomb. And so unfolded the amazing story of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, from rags to riches.
Mirza Ghiyas Beg lived in Persia and had a tough time after his father died. Tales of Emperor Akbar’s success in trade and arts in India were spreading, so Beg decided to travel to India for work. But misfortune smelled him in those days and the family was robbed of their meager possessions along the way. With two mules, a pregnant wife and three children (Muhammad Sharif, Asaf Khan and a daughter Sahlia), Ghiyas Beg arrived in Kandahar. Here, their second daughter was born, whom they didn’t know what to do with.
But fortunes changed, and the family was given shelter in a caravan led by a merchant Malik Masud who also got him a job at Emperor Akbar’s court. Calling the second daughter his lucky mascot, Beg named her Mehrunnisa or ‘Sun among Women’. He kept rising and became the diwan (treasurer) for the province of Kabul and was awarded the title of I’timad-ud-Daulah.
Mehrunnisa was the future Nur Jahan but none knew where the fortunes were going. Beg could afford to give her a sound education. She was well versed in Arabic, Persian, art, literature, music and dance. In 1611, she married Akbar’s son Jahangir.
Beg’s son Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan served as a general in Jahangir’s court and his daughter Mumtaz Mahal (originally named Arjumand Bano) became the wife of emperor Shah Jahan. And Mumtaz Mahal has since been the epitome of undying love as she lives on in the famous Taj Mahal along with her husband.
Our pulses raced as we realized we were on the land of breakthroughs — here lay the roots of a love saga, rags to riches story, changing fortunes and architectural breakthrough. This tomb was the first in India to be made of pure marble with inlaid floral patterns carved with genuine stones such as jade, rubies, lapis lazuli. It also has verses from the Quran written on it. The Indian influence is also prominent with arched entrances, octagonal shaped towers, and use of canopies. Baby Taj, our guide called it, as this is the architectural predecessor to the Taj Mahal.
Armed with these facts, barefoot we walked in, greeted by silence and pigeons enjoying the mating season. The rays filtered in through the marble jalis, playing a game of light and shadows. Nur Jahan’s other relatives also find space here.
Death and life are both inspirations, so saying goodbye to the treasurer of the Mughals, we drove to our next stop. This was where we went crazy over the variety of the famous Agra petha — chocolate, paan, rose, kesar, elaichi and more. Sweets in the polythene, it was time to start the journey back home on the Yamuna Expressway which is also another story.
How To Reach
Agra is well connected via rail and road to Delhi.